BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
OFF BROADWAY REVIEW
Here's a classy blind date for you: How about risking a night with a playwright you don't know?
Now in its second season, Lincoln Center Theater's LCT3 series presents smartly-staged premieres of new works by new writers. Tickets go for only $20. A theater is projected for LCT3's future but in the meantime, the series is being staged very nicely at the 200-seat Duke on 42nd Street.
That's where a promising playwright, Ann Marie Healy, offers a scary glimpse into a dark near-future in "What Once We Felt."
Healy's sci-fi vision is hazy but chilling. If her open-ended tale seems to ebb away rather than satisfy with a resolution, my taste for bolder punctuation here simply may be a guy thing.The story centers on Macy (Mia Barron), a writer whose novel is going to be the last piece of fiction ever printed on paper in a now-totally digital era. Depicting the compromises Macy makes to be published, the narrative mostly serves to reveal a strange new world.
No men exist in the dystopian society Healy gradually depicts. Something devastating called the "Transition" has happened. Would-be mothers are rationed one "download" each from a catalog, but first they have to be rated as "Keepers" by a shadowy government agency. Anyone not shaping up to a certain standard is kept barren. These lesser women are branded as "Tradepacks" who are consigned to menial jobs and destined for gradual extinction.
Subplots involving a couple downloading a baby and the empty life one Tradepack endures illustrate this still-evolving Transition, which becomes ever more invasive. The unwitting Macy's book will figure in the process.
Although Healy's two-hour play is overlong and some of its individual scenes go slack, "What Once We Felt" holds one's interest. The imaginative playwright shows a sharp eye for detail and a subtle way with conversation. Inattentive listeners may not fully grasp the world that emerges in seemingly casual chitchat.
Led by Barron's excitable, weak-willed Macy, five other actors ably portray a dozen other characters. Director Ken Rus Schmoll keeps the emotional temperature cool. Designer Kris Stone's sleek setting features a Manhattan skyline suggesting the Transition is only a few decades away.
"What Once We Felt" continues through Nov. 21 at The Duke on 42nd Street, 229 W. 42nd St., New York. Call (646) 223-3010 or visit www.lct3.org.